Day after day, we read the horror stories: stories of kids who, at worst, eat nothing but cookies and soda for lunch and, at best, eat a slew of fast-food like cafeteria offerings like pizza, chicken nuggets or hot dogs each day.
It's less often that we get to hear the great stories about kids who are eating (and enjoying) healthy foods at school. So when I do hear one of these stories, I want to pass it on. Wisconsin's farm-to-school program is one of these great stories.
Wisconsin's nonprofit REAP program (Research, Education, Action and Policy) has found some truly innovative ways to link fresh food in the fields to public school students meals. Like many farm-to-school programs, REAP sponsors school gardens and the utilization of locally grown produce in school lunches, but it's their additional programs that really make REAP stand out from the crowd.
REAP's "Classroom Snack" initiative brings fresh fruits and veggies (like sweet potatoes, apples and carrot sticks) from locally grown organic farms directly in to the classrooms. Through the REAP "Chef in the Classroom" local chefs head in to the schools to teach kids how to prepare healthy meals — often from the ingredients found in the school's own gardens.
The "Harvest of the Month" program allows cafeteria staff to choose one locally available item to highlight each month, testing new recipes in the kitchen and introducing new items to students. Last but not least, the REAP program has taken fundraisers to a whole new level by helping schools raise money via products that offer a taste of Wisconsin, such as chocolate-covered Door County cherries; rich maple syrup; and specialty jams, crackers and cheeses.